Flush twice... it's a long way to Sally Quinn's place!
Sunday, September 4th, 2005 - Washington (apj.us) - Regular viewers of the Sunday morning Washington-based talk shows were treated to something which we cannot recall having seen ourselves since American Politics Journal started regularly covering these programs back in 1998: raw, uncensored, emotional reality.
And it happened not once but twice - in appearances by Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu and Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard.
We had expected the sole topic of conversation to be the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, only to have awakened this morning to news that Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist had died of complications from cancer late last night. Katrina and the catastrophe she wrought on the Gulf Coast was the main topic of conversation, but Rehnquist - and the fate of the Supreme Court - got plenty of play.
Usually the pre-Labor Day Sunday shows focus on the fall session of Congress, with third-rate pols and guests chewing the fat. Instead, we were witness to the best Sunday talk we have seen in years.
Yes, we said it: in years.
Here's what we saw.
ABC This Week
ABC This Week opened hard with the death of Rehnquist. Host George Stephanopoulos and Washington correspondent Terry Moran cast Rehnquist as a "judicial supremacist" and - Shock! Horror! Don't tell the Conservatives! - a judicial activist. Both Stephanopoulos and Moran hinted that "there are inklings throughout Washington" that hearings on John Roberts may be postponed due to the far more pressing issue of the Katrina aftermath. Stephanopoulos pointed out that the reaction among Democrats to John Roberts has been muted; Moran, betraying his somewhat conservative leanings, cast Roberts ' résumé as superb.
"He was a straightforward, honest man who believed what he did and believe in what he did and, of course, did it with aplomb and with grace." Those with the words from one of Stephanopoulos' first guests, Sen. Orrin Hatch. Sen. Chuck Schumer pointed out that Rehnquist was eloquent in jumping to the defense of judges when some extremist individuals suggested in recent months that impeachment and/or violence targeting judges might be in order (a withering shot at the "Justice Sunday" crowd that the so-called liberal media seems to have completely ignored). Hatch tried to spin the John Roberts paper trail controversy, saying that there is more than enough information on Roberts available now; Schumer said it is appropriate to postpone the debate on Roberts in the Senate out of deference to the passing of Rehnquist. In response to another question by Stephanopoulos, Hatch depicted Roberts as "a jurist of great stature." Hatch wants the nominee who replaces Rehnquist to be a person of similar "stature" (read: hard-right views). Hatch also suggested that Bush may elevate Scalia or Thomas to chief justice (oy). It was pretty clear that Hatch was very saddened by Rehnquist's death; Schumer suggested that it might be a good idea for President Bush to persuade Sandra Day O'Connor to stay on for another year - as (oy oy) chief justice! (Look for a number of Senators to start pushing that idea as early as today. ) Hatch did point out that O'Connor's husband is suffering from "grave difficulties" (Alzheimer's disease) and dismissed the idea.
Stephanopoulos then turned to the outrage over the federal government's dismal, failed response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Stephanopoulos mentioned that Massachusetts government Mitt Romney called it an embarrassment, and Newt Gingrich himself was furious. Hatch hemmed and hawed, saying that "looking for a solution" is priority one (in other words, he's on "This is no time for criticism" message), emphasizing the unprecedented nature of the disaster. "We ought to all be giving everything we possibly can to help resolve this, and it will get resolved!" Schumer: "This was a national emergency, and when you have the Republican senator from Louisiana giving the federal government an F, it means we'd better ask a whole lot of questions about what went wrong and how we can do better next time, because we're facing more disasters than we ever have, whether man-made or from the hand of God, and I just would like to recall Harry Truman's truism: 'The buck stops here'." (Translation: Bush, FEMA the National Guard and Homeland Security have all failed miserably.)
Before turning to an interview with Senator Mary Landrieu, Stephanopoulos turned to an ABC correspondent who reported from New Orleans that over 200 of the city's police officers have walked off the job and two have committed suicide. The situation, however, is getting somewhat better in that there was little or no gunfire last evening, and police authorities see this as a major turning point. But bodies still litter the streets.
The interview with Landrieu was taped yesterday, mostly on board a helicopter touring the carnage in and around New Orleans. Some of the footage was simply stunning: houses completely leveled next to houses that seemed to weather the hurricane with no problem on one island near New Orleans. "I don't want to underestimate the horror of the damage, but you cannot understand the dimensions (of it)." Saint Bernard Parish looked to have been leveled. The helicopter flew over partially submerged train tracks as Landrieu said, "Doesn't anyone hear us? We're not asking for charity... We have roads that are only a few feet above water and unless something happens (because so much freight and oil goes through the New Orleans area), the whole country is going to suffer!" Stephanopoulos and Landrieu flew over a partially submerged FedEx shipping facility that serves Louisiana and Mississippi. The helicopter took a second pass over Saint Bernard Parish; every house was partially submerged. "When the police officers finally get access to the doors and open these houses, I have no idea what they're going to find."
The helicopter then took a pass over downtown New Orleans, showing enormous damage to the facades of high-rise buildings, and then near a prison. "The nation is criticizing us saying, why are you evacuating your prisoners? We had no choice! It was a high priority. " Landrieu rightly pointed out that letting them loose would have created terror and chaos in New Orleans. The frustration in Landrieu's voice rose noticeably: "I dare any sheriff in America to be able to execute that - and our sheriffs did - and if one person criticizes them or says one more thing, including the President of the United States, he will be hearing from me. One more word about it after this show airs and I might likely punch him - literally!"
The helicopter then passed over the break in the levy. "There is ONE CRANE for the whole breach? Is that pitiful? Now, the president came here yesterday for a photo op! He came here for a photo op. He got his photo op - but we're never going to get this fixed if he does not send us help now! Now, George!... The president could have funded (levy reinforcement in previous years). He cut it out of the budget! Pitiful!"
At that point, Senator Landrieu began to cry as she spoke. We hope George gets an eyeful of this segment of This Week.
On the ground, Landrieu made it clear that it is not about only Louisiana or Mississippi - it is about the entire region. Valuable assets (and yes, that includes oil refinery and transportation) have to be reclaimed and restored. "Why the president did not send forces earlier" is the big question - and, she added, is inexcusable. "When I saw the president yesterday I looked him directly in the eye. I said, Mr. President, we need all the assets you have, more military assets, every resource the federal government can give us. We need it now, we needed it days ago, and we've got to have someone in charge that reports directly to you that takes responsibility for this." Landrieu wants to see a cabinet level appointee to take responsibility for recovery and rebuilding of the Gulf region in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. "We supply the seafood, we supply the oil, we supply the goods coming to our ports [and the region is] torn to pieces. Will the president please stop taking photo ops and please come see what I'm trying to show him?"
Mary, Mary, Mary! This President is only about public relations and photo ops! But stop and consider this: a few weeks ago, such a segment on a Sunday morning news show - a segment that casts the president and the entire executive branch as PR-obsessed politicians who have totally failed to protect citizens on their own soil without the least challenge from the designated journalist conducting the segment - would be unimaginable. In the wake of this disaster, there seems to have been a seismic shift in the stance of the press. All week, cable news reporters have been reporting the unconscionable situation in and outside of New Orleans, and going ballistic on authorities at all levels. Anderson Cooper, Shepard Smith, Geraldo Rivera and others have been witness to the plight of people who received no food, no water, no aid, no hope. Some of those people died.
Mark these words: the press is not going to buy the excuses which are sure to continue from FEMA, the Pentagon and other federal-level departments and agencies. Heads will have to roll.
After the Landrieu segment, it was back to the usual blather, starting with the weekly round table. Redundant and repetitive doesn't even begin to describe the ennui we experienced. there were a few moments of note: Cynthia Tucker pointedly explained that many people in New Orleans did not have the means to get out; Howell Raines, former editor (thankfully) of The New York Times (good riddance), said that the White House has gone from playing the blame game to being in the blame business - the federal government, he pointed out, has had no problem in the past marshaling federal and military resources and Raines thinks that Bush is anguished and angry not only at FEMA but at Michael Chertoff and the Defense Department. (And he's probably right - it's just a doggone shame that he wouldn't allow this sort of critical honesty about Bush Junior during his reign of error at the Gray Lady.) Even Louisiana native Cokie Roberts, another Beltway enabler for the Bush Cadre, had to concede that the images coming from the New Orleans Convention Center and Superdome shocked the nation. Nevertheless, one was left with the feeling that the entire round table was pulling their punches amidst the hand-wringing and declarations of shock. We were gratified that George Will suggested that "[t]his could be this president's Iran Contra." Cokie Roberts: "What would happen in a terrorist attack?"
As Atrios would say, "Heh-indeedy."
Fox News Sunday
Chris Wallace and the string pullers at Fox News Sunday decided to focus entirely on the death of William H. Rehnquist and the future of the Supreme Court. His first guests, Texas Senator John Cornyn (R-Ultra-right) and Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Insurance Industry) issued all the spin that one would predict. Dull, dull, dull.
And what is it with FOX News's bookers? All summer, the "Democrats" they have had on as guests are either shills for the usurious credit card cartel (Joe Biden) or health "insurance" scammers (Dodd). We dare FOX to invite, say, Russ Feingold for a visit!
Interestingly, our local Fox affiliate runs FNS at 10AM EDT, and decided not to carry former Texas Gov. George W. Bush's hastily arranged statement on the death of Rehnquist - which, as one would expect, was window dressing for his real message: he wants another judicial extremist quickly jammed through the Senate confirmation process.
As soon as it was obvious that Fox News Sunday was going to be nothing but all-Rehnquist, all-the-time pap, we switched over to CNN to witness Michael Chertoff, live from just within the disaster zone, all but admit in his first press conference of the day that FEMA had completely botched the response to Hurricane Katrina. Of course, he didn't say that explicitly - Chertoff proclaimed, "We are in control of what's going on in the city" (translation: things were way, way out of control), followed by the assertion (a talking point repeated throughout the morning by members and surrogates of Team Junior W. McFlightsuit) that "now was not the time" to talk about the unacceptable, unforgivable shortcomings of the initial response to hurricane Katrina's aftermath. (There was more than a dash of anger and frustration in his voice - Chertoff knows he's toast on a very short stick.)
It is worth noting that in real time, Chertoff's call (read: plea) not to hold either FEMA or himself to account came a little over an hour after the pummeling he got from NBC's Tim Russert ...
Meet the Press
Tim Russert's opening teaser for Meet the Press did not make mention the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist! It cast the disaster in the Gulf region as vast - and the questions about why everything had gone so poorly as pressing and pivotal. He saved the subject of Rehnquist's death for his opening "But first ..." and was joined by NBC News judicial correspondent Peter Williams. Interestingly, Williams thinks that Roberts will not be on the court by the time their October session starts. Other than that, we heard a predictable rehash of Rehnquist's legacy and career along with speculation about who the next chief justice would be.
Michael Chertoff was next, and Tim began his pummeling of the FEMA Chairman - easily the most unrelenting and vehement nonstop rhetorical assaults we have ever seen Russert unleash - by reading a good chunk of the opening of yesterday's New York Daily News front page story, "Shame of a Nation": "Who is specifically at fault for what is nothing less than a national scandal? ... what is already more than clear is that the nation's disaster preparedness mechanisms do not appear to be in the hands of officials who know how to run them."
Tim first asked Chertoff if he is contemplating resignation. Chertoff refused to answer, stammering a plethora of blather about being in the middle of a national crisis, trying to claim that authorities had successfully moved the population of New Orleans (when nothing could be further from the truth - as we type, we're watching live coverage of people being recovered not only from New Orleans roofs but from the few areas of dry land). Most noticeable was the same shine that Chertoff was trying to put on the turd elsewhere: Let's look to the future. The future. We've gotta do this. We gotta do that. (Translation: I am not going to talk about our miserable failure, and I sure as hell ain't gonna resign.)
Here's the rest of the segment, condensed to its essence (with some full quotes in quotation marks).
Tim: Many Americans believe now is the time for accountability. Republican Massachusetts governor Romney said we are an embarrassment to the world. David Vitter said that you deserve a great of grade of F!
(Never - I repeat, never - have we heard such a stupid talking point, a claim that is an insult even to the intelligence of an amoeba!)
Tim (shouting): There was no water! No food! No beds!
(This was unprecedented in the fifty years of Meet the Press history: the moderator shouting at and in fact shouting down an official of the executive branch and casting him as a complete, utter incompetent who didn't have a clue - in this case the first hint as to the facts, the research, and the perils surrounding a potential hurricane strike on New Orleans.)
Tim (continuing loudly): That was four years ago! Last summer, FEMA, who reports to YOU, did a hurricane simulation in which the levees broke - and people, thousands, drowned! Your department and the White House has it - and the president and you are now saying 'We were surprised?'
(And the federal government was not prepared to evacuate everyone from below sea level. What the hell is this - laissez-faire disaster preparedness? It wouldn't surprise us, given the Bush Boy's philosophical proclivities.)
Russert: Those who got out owned SUVs and automobiles or could pay air fares. "Those who could not get out were the poor, who rely on public buses to get out! Your website says that your department assumes primary responsibility for a national disaster - if you knew a hurricane three storm was coming, why were buses, trains, planes ... provided on Friday, Saturday, Sunday to evacuate people before the storm?"
(That has to be the stupidest, most arrogant, most self-serving variation of "Now is not the time" this viewer has heard since the former Texas governor seized White House. By this time, Chertoff looked and sounded rattled, angry, and resentful of Tim's barrage off probing, tough questions.)
Tim: We're still a hurricane season.
(What an amazing interview. At the end, even with that last "softball" question, Tim could not quell the astonishment and contempt in his voice. First Jack Cafferty, the Shepard Smith - now Bush has lost Tim Russert.)
Following the break, Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana (sort of the equivalent of mayor) called the reaction of the federal government "[t]he worst abandonment of American citizens in American history." Russert did not challenge him.
Broussard called for the bureaucracy to stand trial before Congress and the American people. He also joined the ranks of those calling for a cabinet level director to supervise the rescue, recovery and reconstruction of the Gulf region, and criticized the bureaucracy itself as having a factor in the failure to react to the disaster.
Russert: Could the mayor of New Orleans have taken more responsibility?
Props to Atrios for providing this part of the MTP transcript before it was officially published :
Sir, they were told like me. Every single day. The cavalry is coming. On the federal level. The cavalry is coming. The cavalry is coming. The cavalry is coming. I have just begun to hear the hooves of the cavalry. The cavalry is still not here yet, but I have begun to hear the hooves and were almost a week out.
Three quick examples. We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water. Trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back, said we didn't need them. This was a week go. We had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a coast guard vessel docked in my parish. The coast guard said come get the fuel right way. When we got there with our trucks, they got a word, FEMA says don't give you the fuel. Yesterday, yesterday, FEMA comes in and cuts all our emergency communications lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in. he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards said no one is getting near these lines.
The guy who runs this building I'm in - emergency management - he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said. Are you coming. Son? Is somebody coming? And he said yeah. Mama. Somebody's coming to get you.. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday. And she drowned Friday night. [Crying] And she drowned Friday night. Nobody's coming to get us. Nobody's coming to get us. The Sectary has promised. Everybody's promised. They've had press conferences. I'm sick of the press conferences. For god's sakes, just shut up and send us somebody.
Midway through that last paragraph, Broussard had broken down crying. It was painful to watch, but we urge you to do so. The Crooks and Liars blog has the video in (for those using QuickTime format as well as Windows Media (for those who insist on using Bill Gates' the virus-susceptible bugware). We guarantee you will never forget it.
The Crooks & Liars blogger has been doing yeoman's work this week in providing some of the most telling video clips from television news in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Bandwidth ain't cheap onsider putting a little bit of money in their tip jar.
This, dear readers, is real life for municipal politicians trapped in a catastrophe made worse by the incompetence and criminal negligence of an administration that simply doesn't care - and is so contemptuous of even their core constituency that as Broussard describes what this administration has wrought - TURNING AWAY AID TO VICTIMS - the administration's response is to scold viewers not to ask questions about this homicidal failure to protect our citizens and our national security.
To his great credit, Tim Russert only interrupted to try to comfort Broussard, letting the parish president tell his story for nearly three minutes without interruption. Russert knows that the executive branch stands indicted before its own citizens and the world.
We hope President Bush has a good, long look at this segment of Meet the Press. We believe that it is the beginning of the end for his reign of error. The truth is finally emerging as to the extent of what he and his wrecking crew have done to our once-great nation, the United States America, now exposed to the world as incompetent to help its own citizens.
You can be sure that Osama bin Laden and every other insane maniac with a beef against our nation and enough money to fulfill their hateful wishes knows the truth: Bush and the GOP have sold our national security down the river for quick warbucks, speculative petrodollars and the lust for power.
Russert's next guest was Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. The contrast could not be more startling: Broussard, who looked like he hadn't slept to date over week, versus the picture-perfect, camera-ready Barbour, who seems pathologically unable not to look like a professional politician. Barbour, naturally, did his part to heap praise (gag) on the administration in its response, which should surprise no one. Barbour made one comment that struck us as simply outrageous : "I don't know ANYTHING about Louisiana... but we're doing great here!"
Bushit, Haley. You just saw Broussard. You now know EVERYTHING you need to know about Louisiana. As for your own backyard, maybe you should ask a few of the poor in Biloxi - that is, if they all weren't washed away by Katrina.
But even Barbour eventually had to admit that the magnitude of the disaster was gigantic and the response of the federal government was inadequate. Naturally, he tried to spin a few things in favor of his old buddy George W. Bush, but you could see and hear that Haley's heart was not in it. His spin: they tried hard. What he telegraphed: it was not even close to hard enough.
We had to run out to make a brunch date and missed much of the panel segment that followed Barbour's blather . The panel consisted of National Urban League President Marc Morial (who was also a two-term mayor of New Orleans), environmentalist author Mike Tidwell and Scientific American's Mark Fischetti (both of whom knew and tried to warn of the extent of destruction a hurricane could unleash on the Gulf Coast), and WaPo Deputy DC Bureau Chief David Wessel, who we understand pulled no punches on the economic impact of Hurricane Katrina.
CBS Face the Nation
Bob Schieffer mentioned the death of William Rehnquist at the top of face the Nation, but focused first on the wake of Hurricane Katrina, turning to CBS correspondent John Roberts (not to be confused with the Supreme Court nominee), who gave a mostly sunny and optimistic assessment of developments in the last day, citing improvements in the rescue effort, the law and order situation, and efforts to repair the breach in the 17th Street levy.
Schieffer's first guest, Louisiana lieutenant governor Michel Landrieu, was, shall we say, a little bit less sunny than Roberts:
"The blame game is going to come. People are going to be criticized. People are going to be praised. Heroes are going to be made and demons are going to be created, but that doesn't save one life.... The blame game doesn't help, and, you know, I would really hope that on the federal level and the state levels we kind of stay focused
Landrieu also said, "It's been particularly difficult for everybody to get to the folks that are still in that standing water - so the water hasn't receded yet, so we don't know how many people were actually stuck in the houses. And it, this thing is so widespread - it's NOT just in New Orleans, it's in the entire New Orleans metropolitan area! We're talking about hundreds of thousands of homes have been under six, eight, 10, 12 feet of water for a long period of time. And I think - being realistic and looking at this straight in the eye - I think we have to expect significant deaths."
Michael Chertoff was on message with his spin: "Well, this was not just one catastrophe. It was actually two catastrophes." (Yeah, right, Mike. Well, at least the guy knows how to stay on message.) we will spare you the rest of Chertoff's appearance, save for these digs by Schieffer preceding questions:
"I mean, the president said the results are unacceptable. I think a lot of people around the country would use even stronger language."
"The way this began it just seems to me that the country, after all these years and spending billions of dollars since 9/11[/01], was totally unprepared for this."
We couldn't have said it better. One gets the strong feeling that Schieffer isn't buying what Chertoff is selling.
Schieffer is next guest was Mississippi Gov. Barbour. for some reason, he was not playing administration cheerleader on CBS at the beginning of the interview: "Things are not as fast as we want it to be." But a little later in the interview he was on message: "Our sister states have been fabulous. The federal government's been fabulous. In our state, they have worked and worked and worked." To his great credit, he did think his neighbor states.
Congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana painted a completely different picture: "The most horrific scenes I've ever seen. I couldn't imagine that we would have seen it exactly as we did. It looked as if a bomb had exploded along the coast of Mississippi. And then when we got to my home state of Louisiana and my home district, covered with water, just 80 percent of the city, just a massive devastation. ... I think [George W. Bush] had to agree with us that it was a totally unacceptable response. I know it was an overwhelming storm, but that, of course, meant that the tragedy was enormous and the need to respond was greater than ever before. Yet we waited days to get a response. It was very unorganized, and people suffered as a consequence of it. ... FEMA couldn't decide how to coordinate with the states and couldn't decide how to accept help. And it was just a massive set of inefficiencies."
Jefferson dared say what few others in the government or the press would about most of the victims of Hurricane Katrina: "The poorest people were left behind in the storm, and that's kind of the story of how life goes for the poorest people in the nation. In my district, their income tax credit was just paid to people, as you know, who work every day who don't reach the poverty level. It's the second highest payment level anyplace in the country other than one district in Mississippi. So it's a place we have a lot of working poor people who just had to make, you know, very difficult choices, as they do every day, about how to survive through this process. And in some cases, the choices they had to make at the end of the month, there's no money. You know, what do you do? Can you go out and buy a hotel room or pay for the trip? It's just impossible, massive problems. And many of them stayed, and consequently, they were there as victims in this thing much more than anyone else. And the response, I don't believe, was so much attributable to the fact that the folks left behind were the poorest and they were African-American except that the government really didn't step up and do its job. It was just a totally unacceptable response. But the same thing, of course, is true through other parts of Louisiana in St. Bernard and Plaquemines when they were largely white where the response wasn't any good there, either."
Schieffer looked shocked - and empathetically angry. He understood the message. Jefferson had dared to say that yes, race and income were factors - and in this case, it hurt richer people and adjoining areas. And after listening to his final commentary, it became pretty clear were Schieffer stands:
"Finally, a personal thought. We have come through what may have been one of the worst weeks in America's history - a week in which government at every level FAILED the people it was created to serve. There is no purpose for government except to improve the lives of its citizens. Yet as scenes of horror that seemed to be coming from some Third World country flashed before us, official Washington was like a dog watching television. It saw the lights and images but did not seem to comprehend their meaning or see any link to reality. As the floodwaters rose, LOCAL officials in New Orleans ordered the city evacuated. They might as well have told their citizens to fly to the moon. How do you evacuate when you don't have a car? No hint of intelligent design in any of this. This was just survival of the richest. By midweek a parade of Washington officials rushed before the cameras to urge patience. What good is patience to a mother who can't find food and water for a dehydrated child? Washington was coming out of an August vacation stupor and seemed unable to refocus on business or even think straight. Why else would Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert question aloud whether New Orleans should even be rebuilt? And when he was unable to get to Washington in time to vote on emergency aid funds, Hastert had an excuse only Washington could understand: He had to attend a fund-raiser back home.
"Since 9/11, Washington has spent years and untold billions reorganizing the government to deal with crises brought on by possible terrorist attacks. If this is the result, we had better start over."
Got that, George? You've lost Bob Schieffer too. Cue the fat lady.
The Aftermath of Hurricane Pundit Sunday
George W. Bush no longer has a docile press to act as surrogates for Scott McClellan's press releases, with the exception of FOX News Channel - and after seeing the desperation and incredulity Shepard Smith expressed earlier this week, we would not be surprised to see major fractures at the Official News Channel of the Bush Administration ®.
The question, though, is whether or not the press is going to stay focused on the utter failure of the federal government to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina - and whether or not the Democrats are going to be allowed to get their message out through the corporate press.